US Senator Scott Brown and his Democratic rival Elizabeth Warren launched dueling ads Monday over her claims of Native American heritage, an issue that has provoked the most serious personal attacks in their race.
The sniping began when Brown launched a 30-second spot, entitled “Who knows?” The ad features grainy clips of television reporters talking about Warren “identifying herself as Native American to employers. . . . Something genealogists said they have zero evidence of.”
At the conclusion, a reporter asks Warren: “Is there anything else that’s going to come out about you that we don’t already know?” The Democrat laughs in response. “You know, I don’t think so, but who knows,” she says.
For months, Brown, the Republican incumbent, has criticized Warren on the Native American controversy, but Monday’s ad marked the first time he took the argument to the airwaves. The ad bears some risk for Brown, who has built his popularity as a politician who has tried to convince voters that he is above mudslinging.
Although polls do not appear to show the controversy has had a defining effect on the race, the Brown campaign believes there are signs within surveys that suggest voters will be turned off to Warren if they learn more about the issue.
Warren was first to air a negative ad, but it was mild by comparison and focused on policy differences. By late afternoon, Warren unveiled a 30-second spot that struck back at Brown’s, defending her heritage. “As a kid I never asked my mom for documentation when she talked about our Native American heritage. What kid would?’’ Warren asks, looking directly into the camera. “But I knew my father’s family didn’t like that she was part Cherokee and part Delaware. So my parents had to elope.’’
“Let me be clear,” she adds, “I never asked for, never got any benefit because of my heritage. The people who hired me have all said they didn’t even know about it.” Warren ends the ad by taking a direct jab at Brown, turning the issue back on the senator. “Scott Brown can continue attacking my family, but I’m going to continue to fight for yours,’’ she says.
The Native American issue has dogged Warren since last spring when evidence surfaced that she listed herself as a minority in legal directories and at some institutions where she has worked as a law professor. Warren has declined to release documents that might support her claims.
Meanwhile, a conservative blogger attacked Warren Monday for having been involved in legal cases over the years as a Harvard Law School professor, but never getting a Massachusetts license to practice law.
Susan P. Koniak, a Boston University Law School professor whose areas of specialization include the ethics of lawyering, said a law professor, or any lawyer, would only need to be admitted to the Massachusetts bar in order to set up a law practice, or take on clients. So long as a lawyer’s work focuses on serving as an expert witness, signing amicus briefs, or merely consulting on legal issues, Koniak said, he or she is operating well within the boundaries.“It’s not an issue,” she said.
Two conservative blogs on Monday cited Travelers Insurance case in which Warren served as counsel when the case was heard in the US Supreme Court in 2009. Her campaign has said she has been a member of the Supreme Court bar since 1998.
Phillips can be reached